The World Jewish Congress spoke out on Tuesday against those who it believes are making political fodder of the troubles facing Ukrainian Jewry.
Meeting in Paris, the executive committee of the international Jewish body condemned manifestations of anti-Semitism in the Eastern European nation, which has been rocked by political turmoil and conflict with Russia over the past several months.
In a resolution, the WJC expressed its concerns over the inclusion of the ultra-nationalist Svoboda party in the government that replaced Russian backed president Viktor Yanukovich in late February.
While the text of the resolution urged “all parties to ensure that anti-Semitic and anti-minority incitement is not tolerated,” it also expressed the concerns of several Ukrainian Jewish leaders regarding what they believe is the politicization of anti-Semitism for ulterior motives.
In explaining his invasion of Crimea, Russian President Vladimir Putin branded Ukraine’s new authorities as fascists backed by anti-Jewish militants.
During a press conference in Moscow on March 3, Putin warned against the “rampage of reactionary forces, nationalist and anti-Semitic forces going on in certain parts of Ukraine, including Kiev.”
Ukrainian Chief Rabbi Yaakov Bleich, the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine’s Boris Fuchsmann and the VAAD of Ukraine’s Josef Zissels, all WJC vice-presidents, testified to the committee regarding their concerns.
Bleich and Zissels made statements accusing Putin of staging anti-Semitic provocations in Kiev during the months leading up to his invasion.
“Things may be done by Russians dressing up as Ukrainian nationalists” in the “same way the Nazis did when they wanted to go into Austria and created provocations,” Bleich said during a recent press conference in New York.
“I have never claimed that the Russian government or Yanukovich administration were anti-Semitic,” Zissels told The Jerusalem Post recently. “It is much worse – they are cynically willing to play the Jewish card in the implementation of their objectives, and are therefore [shown to be] willing to sacrifice Jews.”
The WJC called on “all governments, media and nongovernmental organizations and their representatives not to cause this complex situation to deteriorate by making unfounded accusations, or giving exaggerated accounts, of the situation of the Ukrainian Jewish population.”
The statement follows Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar’s recent comments that “the Jewish community should not be the one sending messages to President Barack Obama about his policy or to President Putin, or to any other leader.”
Lazar was filmed applauding Putin during a ceremony in which he signed papers bringing Crimea into the Russian Federation.
Lazar was responding to a public letter to Putin by a number of Ukrainian Jewish leaders alleging that his “policy of inciting separatism and crude pressure placed on Ukraine threatens us and all Ukrainian people.”
Ukrainian leaders accused Putin of spreading lies about how minorities, including Jews, are treated in Ukraine.
Lazar and his followers have been engaged in a war of words with their Ukrainian counterparts. In March, the Alexander Boroda of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia told the Post that Bleich was incorrect in calling on Russia to “stop its aggression against Ukraine.”
“Jews and rabbis should stay away from politics,” Boroda said.
In response, Bleich said that he tried not to mix in Russian politics and expected the same treatment.
Speaking with the Post last week, Bleich said that he considered Putin and Lazar’s statements on anti-Semitism to pose a danger to the safety of Ukrainian Jewry.
“Lazar totally contradicts himself from one statement to the next, saying we worry about anti-Semitism but is not worried about the Russian anti-Semitism,” Bleich said. “We find that anti-Semitism, incitement and the history of anti-Semitism in Ukraine includes in large dose Russian incitement against the Jews in Ukraine. It happened during the czars and it’s happening now by Putin inciting the Ukrainian population against the Jews.
“There is no question about it when the president of Russia says that Jews are being killed and synagogues are being burnt down and the government is fascist [and] anti-Semitic, that to some extent he is inciting the Ukrainians against the Jews.”
Since the beginning of street protests in Kiev last November several incidents of violence against Jews and vandalism against synagogues have been recorded.
However, Bleich said, Putin’s purported concern is merely a “cynical abuse of anti-Semitism.”
JTA contributed to this report.